Thursday, January 22, 2009

the joy of memoirs

I was talking to a friend in church about what he was reading (a biography of Lincoln) which made me think about memoirs, my chosen biographical reading. I love the quirkiness of memory and the intimacy of someone sharing such a private part of themselves (something I have great difficulty in doing...).

My first experiences with memoirs were Tracy and Hepburn: an intimate memoir by Garson Kanin and By myself by Lauren Bacall. Being a movie-besotted teenager (and woman of a certain age), I loved reading about Kate and Spence and their friendship with Garson and his wife, the fabulous Ruth Gordon (die-hard Harold and Maude fan here). And Lauren Bacall's can-you-believe-this-happened-to-me tales of Bogey and Jason Robards...sigh, sigh.

As a children's librarian, I really and truly enjoyed The moon and I by Betsy Byars, a combination of a treatise on writing and a memoir of her writing experiences. The Moon is a black snake that hung in the rafters of her writing studio which was rather like a playhouse in her backyard. I laughed until I cried when she wrote of finding a black snake dead by the road and, convinced it was her Moon, decided to take the body home for a proper burial. (It was not her Moon, by the way).

In my past, I was a season ticket holder for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. At one of the concert previews, violist Evelina Chao read a chapter from her memoir of her first trip to China to meet her family: Yeh Yeh's house. It was funny and touching and made me run to the library and request the book as soon as I could. The wonder that she felt in meeting the family that remained in China was palpable, as well as her feeling of being so different because of her American upbringing. A wonderful book.

Since my first viewing of The Sound of Music as a kid, I've worshipped and idolized Julie Andrews. While snowed in at a hotel in Park Rapids (at the end of April, no less!), I spent many a happy hour reading her Home: a memoir of my early years and falling even more in love with her. Can she really be so warm and wonderful and perfect? (In 2004, I spent a week in New York City celebrating a landmark birthday (50) and got to be in the same theatre as my idol when she hosted a gala concert honoring Kitty Carlisle and the memory of her husband Moss Hart--the thought that I've breathed the same air as Julie Andrews just makes me shiver!)

While I appreciate a well-crafted and well-researched biography, give me a memoir every time!

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